Wednesday, June 29, 2011


While President William Jefferson Clinton was perjuring himself to a federal grand jury on a fated late Monday afternoon on August 17, 1998, I was playing softball at Tom Brown Park and my home was on fire.

Heather drove to the game to tell me that our house had burned and all the indoor cats were dead except for Dave the Cat, then 11, who was in the animal hospital. I immediately left the game and by the time I arrived home, Tallahassee Fire Department firefighters who were about to leave told me that when they broke down the front door, the gray and white cat ran out, but they couldn't save the other three cats.

Dave's buddy Goliath and the diminutive Miss Killer and our white cat Happy were all buried in the back yard that day. Dave spent three nights in the animal hospital, and then another few days sneezing frequently, but would recover with no ill effects and live six more years.

The fire started in the kitchen with the 1970 house's original push-button electric range, which demolished the kitchen and spread toxic smoke throughout the house that we would occasionally smell for years afterward. Flames through the kitchen window almost completely incinerated my Choo Choo Train Halloween costume on the carport and I finished the job in the back yard a few weeks later with appropriate pomp and solemnity.

Heather and her husband Dave and daughter Alicia, and Donna and I moved into the Howard Johnson's Motel on North Monroe Street for two weeks until the insurance company found us temporary lodging at Windrush Apartments on East Park Avenue, where we lived for two months while our house was repaired. We brought our outdoor cat Onyx to the apartments where he dutifully stayed inside for the duration of our lodging.

Most of our belongings went out as trash to the street, where it remained for weeks because our utility service including trash pickup had switched to our new residence. We eventually received a bad neighbor notice from the City of Tallahassee shortly before Waste Management Services removed the fire debris. It was more than a year before the grass under the trash grew back again.

Only weeks earlier, our friend of the family and handyman Richard Heburn had recommended his nephew Dave to perform some household repairs which had been completed a few days before the fire. We gave Carpenter Dave (to distinguish him from the other Daves) the contract to repair our house, after which, aside from the loss of three cats, we were in many ways better off than we were before the fire. The interior of our house including paint, appliances, fixtures, flooring and furniture was new. We put wood flooring in the living room and hall and removed a refrigerator alcove built into the kitchen that really opened up the living room and kitchen view from inside the front door.

We were able to move back home by the end of October. Halloween was all but canceled for us that year.

I spent far more than I earned in 1998, but our homeowner's insurance provided sufficient coverage, so actual monetary losses were minor to insignificant. We spent a lot of time inventorying our losses, but we all recovered and life went on. For many years, "Before/After the fire" became an operative phrase to describe family and historical events.

As I remember all this, my heart and thoughts go out to fellow Godby High School Class of 1981 graduate Gary Bryant and his wife Michelle and their dogs, who lost their Tallahassee home to fire during the fierce thunderstorms last Sunday afternoon, June 26.

Gary, we are still expecting to see you and Michelle at the reunion in two weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spongebob Squarepants

I had a wildly successful Halloween in 2002 as Bob the Builder, and while I was watching Bob on Nickelodeon to learn to better portray him in costume contests, I was planning for next Halloween. By January 2003, I was already hard at work on Nickelodeon's other A-list character at the time, Spongebob Squarepants.

I built a cuboid, a characteristic of many of my best costumes, by using light pine wood and cardboard, yellow swimming pool noodles for arms, papier mache hands, and six colors of paint. I used a piece of styrofoam packing with a concavity that fit the top of my head, so that most of the weight of the costume rested on my head. I installed handles on each side inside near his waistline for for my hands to support Spongebob and to steer us.

Spongebob's pupils and irises are made of thin foam which gives a nice three-dimensional effect to his face. He weighs less than twenty pounds, but he is the heaviest costume I have worn since the Watermelon costume, which is now a seventeen year-old Duracell Battery.

I won the costume contest at the American Legion Hall in Tallahassee, and here, on stage in Havana.

Wherever I went, children would sing the Spongebob Squarepants theme song.

I won an eighteen-inch plush Spongebob Squarepants figure at the Tallahassee Streetrodders costume contest at Whataburger on Thomasville Road. 

Heather carved me a Spongebob Squarepants pumpkin for Halloween.

Spongebob and I were a big hit on the dance floor and won second place at Schooners Last Local Beach Club in Panama City Beach.

In 2004, Spongebob Squarepants and I walked in the Springtime Tallahassee parade with the Chinese community.

On Cinco de Mayo in 2009, I put a giant sombrero on Spongebob Squarepants' head and we won at El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant on Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

In October 2010, Spongebob and I participated in a Halloween costume parade at Railroad Square Art Park.

Video by Zan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bob the Builder

I won eight costume contests in four Florida cities in October 2002.

In Spring 2002, I looked out my living room window and saw a construction worker with a backhoe beginning work in the neighbor's yard, and that very day I began working on my Halloween costume. I used caster wheels at the bottom for mobility and plywood to make the costume's wheels, a PVC smokestack, an orange emergency light at top, and built a scoop and a shovel at each end. The hardest part was to make the scoop on my backhoe work, but using interlocking wooden pieces and dowels, gravity and a variable length drawn guide wire, I grew quite adept at operating my backhoe with efficiency, agility and a semblance of reality.

I didn't know who Bob the Builder was until I donned a hardhat, vest and gloves and took my backhoe to Havana's Pumpkin Festival, where all the kids gathered around and wanted to ride in the backhoe and they called me Bob the Builder. I won Havana's costume contest as Bob the Builder and went home to watch and learn more about Bob the Builder on Nickelodeon.

By my next outing, I knew that Bob the Builder's backhoe was named Scoop, and I had added eyes to him. I wore a plaid shirt and overalls and a tool belt with tools like Bob did, and I put the Bob the Builder logo on my hardhat. Bob didn't have a mustache, so I shaved mine. I won the costume contest at the office.

When I went trick-or-treating with my family, the neighborhood kids sang the Bob the Builder song to me.

I won costume contests at the American Legion Hall and the Big Bend Hospice benefit at the Greek Orthodox Church in Tallahassee. I was the youngest contestant and won at the Tallahassee Senior Center on Highway 27, Monroe Street.

Bob the Builder won the costume contest at Schooners Last Local Beach Club in Panama City Beach Florida, and here is the Florida Panhandle sunset from that memorable evening....

Brothers, a nightclub now closed and still empty on West Tharpe Street, was billed as "Tallahassee's Pansexual Playground" and I needed to do something special. I bought and wore a nice pair of latex breasts from Magic and Fun Costume Shop, where I've been purchasing Halloween supplies since 1980, and added an over-sized bikini cover-up t-shirt --- with bikini printed on the shirt. I wore a feathered boa and beads, sunglasses, lipstick and nail polish, and appended "ie" to "Bob" on my hardhat. Bobie the Builder was a big success and won Brothers' costume contest.


I wore 2000's Lighthouse costume to Monticello Florida, and I won the costume contest downtown at the Opera House, and front page mention by name in the city's newspaper, the Monticello News.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Halloween Popcorn

Halloween 2007 began in 2005 when I bought a refrigerator magnet at Tallahassee's Bed Bath & Beyond shaped exactly like a two-wheeled push-propelled popcorn machine. It caught my eye and I bought it and I didn't think anything of it again until my grandsons outgrew their bicycle stroller trailer in early 2007. The trailer had three wheels, and so I removed the two rear pneumatic tires and used them to build a wearable model of my popcorn machine refrigerator magnet.

In many ways, I framed a similar costume to my Big Choice crane game costume of 1986, an upright rectangular construction on caster wheels with a service area in front, and room for myself in the rear without exposure. I built it slightly deeper than needed, for both the popcorn bin and me. I attached the trailer wheels at front, and at back I used two upright 2" * 2" lumber on which to rest the contraption.

Years earlier, I had attended a garage sale where I bought two black plastic molded cauldrons. I used the smaller of the two for my popcorn cooker and suspended it above the popcorn bin with wire. I used sheets of plastic for the popcorn bin.

I was torn as to how much of myself to expose. I could stay inside and be the popcorn machine, or I could walk behind it and push the machine, using it more of a prop than a costume. This decision would influence how tall I needed to make the popcorn machine costume, so I complicated matters by selecting both options. For a previous Halloween, I had assembled a papier mache torso for modelling costume designs, so I used it for this costume. On it, I put the latex breasts that I as Bobie the Builder wore five years earlier, a witch's mask with a jester's hat, and a red-and-white striped vendor smock with embroidered skirt, and made myself a horrific popcorn sales lady who would push the popcorn machine. I put a name tag on her and called her Polly.

I stood inside the popcorn machine and was concealed by the machine between Polly and her popcorn.

Since the popcorn machine needed to accommodate me as well, I had to make it taller than me, but if I simply made it taller than me, it wouldn't fit into the car, so I made the upper foot of the costume removable.

What I personally wore was irrelevant. I usually wore sturdy shoes and pants and a t-shirt, unless I expected a cold evening. Many people at first glance assumed that Polly was the "wearer" of the costume, especially as time wore on at drinking establishments.

People chowed on the popcorn wherever I went, so I popped fresh popcorn before each event. I cleaned the popcorn machine fairly well after each costume contest, but Halloween popcorn residue is especially persistent. To this day, whenever I take out the popcorn machine or show it off, I notice popped kernel husks around and about the popcorn bin.

With the popcorn machine costume, I won five costume contests in Tallahassee and Havana Florida. I won Havana's Pumpkin Festival contest and I won at the American Legion Hall. At Chez Pierre's restaurant, I won two 40 yard line tickets to a Florida State and Maryland football game, and on Halloween night I won two costume contests, at Mark's Bar on Apalachee Parkway, and at the now-closed Brothers Lounge on Tharpe Street.

It was a multi-costume year in 2007 and I won a total of eight costume contests. I wore my 2000 Lighthouse costume at Two Nichols Restaurant in St. Marks and won first place, under the virtual shadow of the St. Marks Lighthouse. I reprised my 2002 Bob the Builder costume at the Big Bend Hospice Halloween benefit at the Greek Orthodox Church and had first choice among all the prizes.

It was a good Halloween.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hands Across America

In Spring of 1986, we started hearing about Hands Across America, a benefit to raise money to fight hunger, homelessness and poverty. Attendants would hold hands from New York City's Battery Park to the Queen Mary's pier in Long Beach, California. We went to the public library and consulted newspaper publications to look for the closest strand to Tallahassee and found it to be in Memphis, Tennessee.

My recollection is that it took eleven hours to get there. Peter and I left Tallahassee with three others in a 1975 Ford LTD late Saturday evening after work on May 24, 1986, and made very few stops on the way to Memphis on Sunday. It was scary driving in the rain in mountainous northern Alabama. We drove until we saw the line of people in downtown Memphis and parked as close to them as we could with only minutes to spare.

We linked arms with the other participants and although we weren't sure what they were singing, we hummed along. Fifteen minutes after we arrived, we had completed our mission. We spent the next several hours on Beale Street in Memphis and went to at least a dozen bars whose names are now lost to time. At one of the last bars we visited, Percy Sledge was live on stage, and we stayed through his entire set, during which he sang "When a Man Loves a Woman."

It was a momentous day in Memphis, Tennessee, and one we knew we would never forget. Shortly before midnight, we got back into the car and took a short ride over the Mississippi River on the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge into West Memphis Arkansas, so we could say we visited Arkansas, and then we traveled home.